Governor Northam

Mega-Donor “Dubby” Wynne Called Governor to Preside Over July 27 Meeting with Health Care Institutions

Last week, we asked Governor Northam’s press secretary, Alena Yarmosky, to help us understand the Governor’s position on the future of his alma mater, Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). The signals to date have been confusing.

EVMS has been chronically underfunded for years. Sentara Healthcare, on the other hand, is a nonprofit hospital chain that has amassed a cash reserve of $6 billion. Virginia’s reserves, by contrast, are $1.1 billion. Sentara’s operations rely heavily on EVMS alumni, faculty, and residents.

Sentara recently announced a $11.5 billion merger with Cone Health of North Carolina. Sentara CEO Howard Kern would lead the combined health care chains. To achieve the merger, C&BP sources say Kern is angling to keep the profitable EVMS Medical Group, from which Sentara draws low-cost, highly skilled medical residents, as well as a profitable caseload stream. At the same time, he wants EVMS’s medical school be combined with Old Dominion University (ODU), a public institution. This would effectively offload EVMS’s operating costs onto Virginia taxpayers.

Will Northam back the healthcare giant’s longshot play to walk away from EVMS and leave Virginians footing the bill?

What we know so far:

  • Gov. Northam helicoptered to a July 27, 2020 meeting on the top floor of a downtown Norfolk building. The meeting was called by political mega-donor John “Dubby” Wynne, former CEO of Landmark Communications — now chair of the nonprofit ReInvent Hampton Roads. Leaders from Sentara, EVMS, ODU and Finance Secretary Layne attend.
  • On August 5th, Northam publicly endorses the “review process” largely paid for and driven by Sentara, lauding the decision to retain “third party consultants,” Manatt Health Strategies, LLC to produce a study.
  • On August 12th, Sentara announces the $11.5B merger with Cone Health.
  • On October 14th, EVMS Rector Theresa Emory emails President Richard Homan that she has learned Sentara’s CEO Kern sits on the board of ReInvent Hampton Roads with Wynne. She says she believes, “this raises the issue of a conflict of interest.”
  • On November 25th, Virginia Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne calls Emory to say he has put nothing in the budget for EVMS. Layne says if EVMS is “out, then we’re out.”
  • According to an email obtained by C&BP, Emory reports her conversation to Homan: “How is it that the richest health system in the country, for its size, is sitting in the area with some of the worst health disparities in the country? How is that not a problem for the state? The African-American community is being hit disproportionately by the pandemic and all Sentara seems concerned about is unloading the institution that is serving the local community, in the middle of a pandemic so they can have a clean slate when they merge with Moses Cone.”
  • On November 30th, The EVMS board votes “no confidence” in the recommendations of the Manatt study.
  • On December 1st, Manatt posts its study that includes the seemingly state-endorsed list of recommendations and promotes one that would be underwritten by taxpayers.

On December 12th, our request to interview Sentara Chair Diane Calderone is denied.

People deserve to know where Gov. Northam stands during a public health crisis that is hitting the Hampton Roads Black community particularly hard.

We will report back when we know more.


Do you have information to share? Send us a note through our confidential tip line.


Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.


You may also want to read:

Top Northam Aide: Virginia Governor Won’t Accept Sentara’s Push to Offload EVMS onto Taxpayers

Records Suggest Sentara Pushing EVMS Funding Onto Virginia Taxpayers to Ease $11.5B Merger

Will Sentara Healthcare’s Expansion Plans Hurt Eastern Virginia Medical School’s Ability to Serve Southeast Virginia?